Improving the Well-Being of Young Parents

Posted July 8, 2020, By the Annie E. Casey Foundation

Young parent spending time with child

Two recent reports funded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation explore challenges faced by young parents, particularly mothers of color. The publications also share recommendations for how public systems and policy makers can enhance educational, financial and health outcomes for these parents and their children.

Recommendations from young parents

Growing Together — which is based on discussions and interviews with more than 100 parents in 2018 and 2019 — finds that young caregivers report facing myriad challenges, including:

  • feeling alone and lacking support;
  • struggling to find and keep affordable housing, quality health care and child care; and
  • balancing parenting, educational goals and jobs that pay family-sustaining wages — all while still maintaining access to public benefits, such as food stamps and child-care assistance.

The publication, produced by the nonprofit United Parent Leaders Action Network, cites numerous recommendations offered by young parents and aimed at addressing these issues. This advice includes:

  • developing more support groups and resource centers so that young parents can meet, connect and learn from each other;
  • expanding access to health insurance for young parents, which would help them financially and help them address health issues like postpartum depression;
  • increasing and expanding programs that expand access to affordable housing and child care;
  • offering more job training aimed at young parents and advocating for flexible work policies that can help them manage their parenting responsibilities.

“The coronavirus pandemic has only exacerbated the challenges that young parents face,” says Rosa Maria Castañeda, a senior associate at the Casey Foundation who manages investments in two-generation approaches. “Our hope is that advocates, policy makers and practitioners will push to remove barriers for young parents while also helping them juggle work, education and parenting during these difficult times and in the long-term.

Young parents lack support from public systems

Young Parents Speak Out reports that young parents face numerous gaps in support from public systems like child welfare, juvenile justice and government benefits programs.

The paper, released by the nonprofit National Crittenton in partnership with Katcher Consulting, finds that:

  • Policies can have unintended consequences on young parents. Policies like work requirements to receive government benefits and strict penalties for late child support payments force young parents to make difficult decisions. For instance, some young parents may forgo educational opportunities if it means taking time away from work and reducing their government benefits, such as food stamps or housing assistance. Many young mothers and fathers who have primary custody of their children also decline certain government benefits because it would require them to report that noncustodial parents are behind on child support, which could lead to wage garnishment or even jail time.
  • Institutions serving young parents are siloed. Workforce development groups, community nonprofits, child welfare agencies and other systems and organizations often fail to coordinate their services. The end result is a complex web of benefits and resources that can be difficult for young parents to navigate.
  • Data about system-involved young parents is lacking. States are required to report numbers on expectant and parenting youth involved in the child welfare system. These data collection efforts have hit delays and few agencies disaggregate their findings by race. In addition, juvenile justice systems are not even required to gather this information.

The report calls on organizations, advocates and public systems to take a number of steps — like enhancing research, ramping up data collection efforts and crafting shared policy priorities — to better support young parents.

“We hope that leaders and policymakers examine the broken systems and practices that excessively burden young families and their children,” Castañeda says. “As it stands, we are leaving too many of our young parents — and, by extension, our communities and youth — behind.”

Learn more about policies that help young parents

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